The days, weeks and months following a tractor-trailer crash are extremely important. After a truck accident, the local police department will investigate to try and determine whether any of the drivers violated local or state motor vehicle regulations (i.e. speeding, careless driving, etc.). However, when it comes to a tractor-trailer accident, the true cause of the crash is usually a series of actions or inactions by the trucking company that occurred in the weeks and months before the actual crash. Unfortunately, local police officers are not trained to investigate the events leading up to a crash. As a result, the responsibly to do so falls upon the shoulders of the truck accident attorneys.
But if no action is taken in the days and months following a crash, important evidence can go missing.
In order to have the best chance to uncover the causes of a crash, truck accident attorneys need to act quickly following a crash to make sure that important documents do not go missing. The Federal Government, recognizing the danger of tractor-trailers and importance of record keeping, passed laws that direct trucking companies to maintain documents following crashes.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) are safety regulations that govern the hiring, training and supervision of truck drivers as well the operation of commercial motor vehicles. The FMCSRs also contain retention requirements for documents related to employee driving history, medical screening, prior and subsequent accidents, safety violations, hours of service violations (maximum driving time), etc. In short, the FMCSRs require commercial drivers and motor carriers to keep logs documenting driving hours, to maintain documents that independently support the driving hour logs, to maintain records of pre-trip inspections and to maintain records showing that drivers are qualified to operate the tractor trailers (i.e. qualification files).
In addition, the FMCSRs require drivers and motor carriers to maintain these documents for certain periods of time to ensure the documents are not destroyed following a crash or other event. Specifically, Appendix A to 49 CFR 379 requires the following:
- Personnel records (i.e. driver qualification files) must be maintained for one (1) year;
- Bills of lading must be maintained for one (1) year;
- Dispatch records must be maintained for three (3) years;
- Records of inspections must be maintained for six (6) months; and,
- Hours of service logs must be maintained for (6) months.
Additionally, Note A to Appendix A reads:
Records referenced to this note shall be maintained as determined by the designated records supervisory official. Companies should be mindful of the record retention requirements of the Internal Revenue Service, Securities and Exchange Commission, State and local jurisdictions, and other regulatory agencies. Companies shall exercise reasonable care in choosing retention periods, and the choice of retention periods shall reflect past experiences, company needs, pending litigation, and regulatory requirements.
These documents are important in determining the true causes of trucking accidents. They are usually the only way to discover how trucking companies violated the laws and regulations and put the motoring public at risk. Without these documents, trucking companies may be able to avoid or limit their responsibility.
However, if a trucking company is not put on notice of your claims following a crash, they can legally dispose of their documents after the Federally mandated time limits expire. Therefore, truck accident attorneys need to move fast following a crash. Depending on the circumstances, attorneys can serve trucking company’s with notices directing them to maintain records, petition the court to impound the truck or records or file a lawsuit immediately.
Unfortunately, if you wait to retain a truck accident lawyer until months after a crash, these documents may already be destroyed. Therefore, it is important to retain a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible following a crash. Contact the New Jersey truck accident lawyers at RAM Law for help with your case.